No, no, no. It is clearly obvious, the fact that there happens to also be prior art just adds insult to injury. If there had not been prior art, it would still be a frivolous, trivial patent.
This is exactly what's wrong with the patent system - you don't need prior art to tell you something is obvious and should be unpatentable.
One of the big problems with the patent system is that it tries to implement solutions that are not viable in practice. There's no good, plain, clear, and unbiased way to prove a patent is indeed trivial. Even if we us hackers look at each other and agree that it's trivial.
I'd love to live in a world where innovators of non trivial solutions were rewarded money from others, without punishing these other innovators. But that's not possible to implement in practice!
That's kind of how Apple's slide to unlock patent is now. Even if they twist the heck out of that method, it might still fall within Apple's description for a "slide to unlock" method for which they got a patent.
Stuff like this shouldn't be allowed to be patented. But I think people tend to give Apple the benefit of the doubt much more than they deserve, because they were the ones changing the mobile industry in 2007, and now they somehow believe that anything that even remotely resembles what Apple has needs to belong to Apple and only to Apple. But that's not how things should work. Apple should just compete and try to stay 1 step ahead. That's how it's done in all the other industries. They don't try to squash every single one of their competitors with bogus lawsuits because they "compete" i.e. making something "similar".
Pay them for their time, obviously, and that cost should come from the patent application fee.
If this were done the vast majority of software patents existing today would not have been granted. Which is probably why the system wouldn't do it.
Sounds like an excellent reason not to allow someone to own the idea for 20 years.
But I very sincerely hope you're right :)
This is a legitimate question, and I'm looking for real answers because these can be useful later on.
What is natural about swiping to unlock? The closest historical analogy I can think of is moving a bolt sideways on a door, but this is tenuous and certainly wouldn't extrapolate as the most natural/expected method of signalling to an electronic device that I'd like it to no longer ignore my touch gestures.
Would the closer analogy be the 'hold' slider as present on music players, including apple's own ipods? (And earlier devices.) Again, why is this the natural choice in lieu of a hundred other ways of telling the device that I'm ready to work with it.
Apple's love of skeuomorphs present many seemingly 'obvious' analogies, but they were usually rare or non existent before, so I'm curious to understand what is the line of innovation.
I think you're approaching the question from the wrong angle. Whether the idea of swipe to unlock is obvious is irrelevant; ideas can't be patented. Only implementations can be patented. Do you think a programmer familiar with touchscreens and mobile development would have difficulty figuring out how to implement swipe to unlock when presented with the idea?
The question I'm asking is within this broken system. How natural is this gesture? It means without the apple iphone, would we still be using this gesture, would it still be considered obvious?
I think it probably would have come about not long after capacitive touchscreens became the standard input device for phones no matter what. It's the easiest gesture to make that is fairly unlikely to happen by accident when the phone is in a pocket.
I can think over many other more logical/closer skeuomorphs, which forms the basis of my question: was apple's choice a naturally occurring one, or their design choice. This isn't about patents, it's just a mind experiment as to understand if this is as straight forward as it seems in retrospect. (Because good design always appears obvious in retrospect.)
I'm yet to be presented with an answer to this, this is the crux of originality.
This space of gestures is so narrow, that any idea within it can be explored in minutes, therefore any method that just combines these primitive gestures would be obvious.
Additionally, taps can accidentally happen (also obvious), and multi-touch is cumbersome, therefore swiping is the obvious gesture to use for unlocking.
It would not matter if slide-to-unlock remained a "trade secret" and the investment in making that feature is low enough that they would do it, even if they were never granted patent protection.
Prior art is the easiest way to prove it.
It sucks :(
This. I do think that Apple is an innovative company which creates great products. But this does not in anyways justifies its actions in courtrooms all over the world trying to exploit a system that is clearly outdated.
For example, iPhone and iPad - both of these concepts (smartphone and tablet) already existed. Only, a lot of them were shitty before Apple came along. They basically swept through and fixed everything that was wrong with these devices, but it's not like they came up with the idea for a tablet or a smartphone.
The fact they haven't created a new product area by themselves doesn't mean they don't innovate at all.
Yes tablets had existed in the past but did any of them have scaled down, touch optimised UIs ? All I recall is full blown Windows which was probably the biggest reason they didn't succeed.
Yes. None of them were widely commercially successful though. Products that come to mind include the Crunchpad (which I'm not sure actually made it to market), the Always Innovating Touchbook and the Pepper Pad. Of these, the Crunchpad was most similar to the iPad.
So no, Apple didn't invent a new product area with the iPad. They were just the first to find commercial success in that product area.
So, I'd argue it's still a huge improvement over an existing product area, with the added bonus that it created a market. Products existed, but no significant market for them was available.
The iPhone's improvements over Blackberries and the like of the time were as impressive as the iPad's improvements over Windows tablets, for example, but one doesn't feel the iPhone a new product area.
See e.g. http://www.linuxfordevices.com/c/a/Linux-For-Devices-Article...
It wasn't as sleek as the iPad, of course - battery, LCD and touch technology has come a long way, but it worked quite well.
And we were not first with a custom tablet UI (the article above compares it to the Ericsson Screen Phone for example: http://www.linuxfordevices.com/c/a/Linux-For-Devices-Article... )
It's not as if the legal professionals working on these suits would otherwise be writing code for iOS features. And it's not as if Apple is just waiting for the outcomes of these suits, letting their products stand still in the meantime.
Defensive use only when patents as pathetic as these are used is all well and good. Wasn't the patent system created to protect real innovation?
A fucking slide to unlock gesture is not innovation.
Now let me go and patent that 'dance to pay' gesture.
Strippers already have prior art on that one.
Come on, yes the patent system needs reform but inventions do need to be protected/nurtured. Disregard the details here, and when I hear people having little rants it sounds like they advocate a kind of anarchist cookbook approach to innovation saying 'fuck it, you just make it better than them, who cares if the ting you worked on for 5 years was copied in 5 minutes by xyz, just make it better than them you litigious assholes'. Suppose I said this about your fucking homework? Hey, nice answers you put in there, I just copied them because they were obvious. Fuck you.
So yeah, you say swipe to unlock is obvious, tell me what the fuck you invented that was 'obvious'? Nope? Nothing huh? Nada? Oh well, guess that makes you an expert or something.
It's important to remember, there's no suggestion in any of these cases that anyone stole Apple's source code. There isn't even an allegation that they did any nontrivial reverse-engineering of an iPhone (it clearly wasn't necessary). Instead, at most, people saw a behavior and independently re-implemented it (and often might not have even seen the behavior first - many of these patents date far back before the iPhone - to the point where "infringing" implementations existed well before the iPhone), without studying the implementation at all.
That's like... getting a good grade because you wrote a paper on the Roman Empire and then accusing someone of cheating because they decided to write their own paper on the same subject (when they might not have even known the subject of your paper and even if they did it wasn't cheating).
No, what actually happened would be more like writing a brilliant paper on Roman Empire exploring it in a way that no one had before, and suddenly this guy who's been stuck for years suddenly "comes up with" a paper that appears to borrow heavily from yours.
So, an international company can just see what is developed in another market, copy it and patent it in their own country?
I can understand this being the case in 1912, but we have the world wide web. Surely this concept is out of date?
So, "if it's not here, you can still patent it" is a way to protect their interests, and then use that new patents all over the world.
But as this case proves, maybe that strategy works against smaller adversaries, but the ones with big pockets can still prove it wrong.
> So, an international company can just see what is developed in another market, copy it and patent it in their own country?
Multinational companies are global when things go nice, (moving money around the world, minimizing taxes, and so on), but then they remember their homeland when they can take advantage from that.
Now, that doesn't mean I think Apple deserves a patent for swipe to unlock but I do think people are mixing up the terms "obvious" and "simple".
More broadly: I think your attitude is, in fact, exactly the problem. The existing patent regime tends to defaults to a judgement that if something "hasn't been invented" (worse: "the patent office wasn't presented with specific evidence that it has previously been invented") that it must be non-obvious.
Some things are obviously obvious, and I know it when I see it. Slide to unlock is obvious, period. Arguing otherwise invokes a universe where every tiny bit of nonsense in every product becomes someone's property.
Basically: if slide to unlock is not obvious, then everything is non-obvious and all hope is lost. Think this through -- I really don't think you want to live in that world.
Note that a lot of brilliance looks obvious ex post facto because one is looking up the branch and seeing only one branch instead of down it and the bifurcations.
So if you want to make that case, make it. Show me the "brilliance" in Slide-to-Unlock that makes it a unique flower worthy of protection. Don't hide behind platitudes.
It's not clear how one would do this. You could reply to any evidence presented "meh, not impressed." Your position is basically the mirror of the fallacy you're arguing against. The fact that you personally are not impressed doesn't make it non-obvious either. [oops, meant obvious]
Or conversely: the world you apparently want to live in is one where "protectable innovation" is cheap and worthless. Every simple improvement on an existing system becomes someone's property. Do you really want that? I don't think you do -- I think, frankly, that you want every simple improvement made by Apple Computer to be protectable. Prove me wrong. I don't think you can. :)
Even to someone (Hi!) who thinks all software patents are bad, RSA is patentable if anything is patentable. Slide to unlock, not even remotely so.
The Neonode N1 showed a padlock on its screen with the words "right sweep to unlock" when it was in its protected mode. A later version replaced the text with an arrow.
The judge said it would have been an "obvious" improvement for the developers to have offered users visual feedback in the form of a "slider" in the way that Apple later used.
He added that the concept of a "slider" was not new since it had already appeared in Microsoft's CE system.
As a result Apple's claim to the innovation was rejected.
The Neonode N1 already had a swipe to unlock, just that it lacked visual feedback. But from that point, providing feedback would have been obvious.
Instead it re-issued an earlier statement, saying: "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.""
This reaks of disastrous lazy damage control PR.
I can't imagine someone falsely claiming to own real property that's actually public, suing someone over it and getting the case thrown out of court and then saying "We think going to the beach/park/nature reserve is healthy, but tourists should create their own original recreation areas and not steal ours" without being laughed at for sheer cheek but for whatever reason it works with "intellectual" property all the time.
Apple never cared about "swipe to unlock", that's obviously silly. But they do feel (rightly IMO) that they've completely revolutionized how smart phones and tablets are made with everyone else just making cheap versions of what they came up with. They don't have a way to go to court and get people to stop making cheap rip offs of their stuff (so long as they're sufficiently different) so they're trying to find anything that will stick.
A ridiculous system will produce ridiculous interactions.
I'm coming to a belief that the patent system's brokenness is hugely amplified by the presumption of validity given by the courts. You can either have a very rigorous up front patent examination system and a presumption thereafter of validity, or you can have a loose / quick review process and a balanced treatment in the courts (no presumption either way).
But you can't have a patent system where > 50% of patents fail to be proved valid when challenged in the courts (which is how the current system is) AND a presumption of validity.
If I could change one thing about the patent system, I would probably introduce a "vexatious litigant" style restriction that said if your patents fail to survive court challenges > 50% of the time then you lose the presumption of validity on ALL your patents. That would put an immediate stop to all these BS cases that are basically just trying to trip up / delay competitors with patents that they know will fail eventually under scrutiny.
Now just think about Google's (and Samsung's and HTC's and ...) probable reaction to discovering they can be blindsided by not patenting something they thought was obvious. If you think things are bad now, just wait a few years.
But that just makes matters worse - once you have search over multiple sources, and you have search on the desktop, and you have web based search, the multiple sources bit is a small iteration.
Could the courts implement something similar for patent disputes?